When I think about lace making an image of old ladies sat outside their houses in a Mediterranean town with blue skies above and a gentle breeze brushing past them comes to mind.

They are content in their work, chatting to each other and creating beautiful doilies or table cloths.
If we take out the old, the blue sky and the gentle breeze, I can also put this image to the group I joined one Tuesday afternoon at the Gladys Bevan Hall in Upper Beeding.

Make no mistake though, lacemaking has moved on and has definitely been brought into the 21st Century.

The Henfield lace group was started by Jacquie Tinch, Thelma Richards-Carpenter and her daughter in 1984. Jacquie was a keen lace maker and wanted to share her knowledge about this ancient craft with others. To begin with, Jacquie taught at the classes. However, when she moved to Lincolnshire, the group changed to a social group where like-minded lace makers could get together.

The group now meet every first and third Tuesday between 2pm and 4pm at the Gladys Bevan Hall and are celebrating their 30th Birthday this year.
Lace making appears a timeless hobby, passed from generation to generation.

And in fact no one is actually sure when it began - only that it was thousands rather than hundreds of years ago.
The oldest sample of lace traced so far is in the Victoria and Albert museum in London and is called mummy lace. It appears that this piece of lace was made in Egypt many centuries BC and that it was recovered from an ancient tomb.

In time, lace making was found to be taking place all over Europe. Bobbin lace making (which is what I had a go at) became a huge industry, particularly in France and Belgium. It was so important in France that it attracted the skilled workers from Italy.

Italy was not happy about the drift of these skilled workers to France - so
concerned in fact was she that a decree was issued which read:

'Anyone who practised his art in a foreign land (meaning France) will be ordered to return, should he disobey this order his nearest of kin will be imprisoned, on his return he will be pardoned for the offence, and employment will be found for him, Should he not return an emissary will be commissioned to kill him, and the next of kin held in prison will only be released on his death.'

This was between 1698 and 1788 when 9 thousand lace makers lived in Alencon, France and the surrounding districts. I'm not sure how many were living there after they heard about the above decree...

No such words will greet you at the lace group I attended!

I felt very welcomed and was soon sat down with a piece of lace Helen had started for me and lots of cotton and bobbins.
The pattern I was following was a snake bookmark. It was one of the simplest patterns for a beginner but still looked complicated to me. The snake pattern was on a cut out card and attached on to a pillow. By working through the bobbins from one side to the other and putting in a pin on each edge, the snake began to grow!

After being shown a few times, and having a go under Helen's supervision, I was soon in the swing of it and managed to do a few rows unaided. It was when a conversation started and I joined in I got muddled. But it is very easy to back-track and begin a row again. I found it rather relaxing and could understand how people could get hooked on it.

Having a look around the group at what else was being made and chatting to the ladies was really interesting. There were some pieces of lace that people had been working on for ages, other people using complicated stitches that looked so delicate and pretty.

There was a lady there who had come to help anyone who needed it and she was in great demand - not only for her teaching abilities but also for the ladies to show her how well they were doing. Some of the numbers of bobbins being used on one piece was amazing. Goodness knows how they knew which bobbin to pick up when!

Lace can be made by machinery.

Apparently the best way to tell if a piece of lace is handmade is to find a mistake in it!

Although there are only two stitches in lace making (whole stitch and half stitch), it is the two basic moves, the cross and the twist, and the placing of pins, that can make the pattern change.

It was a whole new experience for me meeting these ladies. The group was so social and I would recommend it to anyone who fancies a new hobby - especially as it keeps an old craft alive.

If you are a lacemaker or would like to learn lacemaking, you will be made very welcome. They have the expertise within the group to introduce anyone to lacemaking. At £3* a session it is great value for money.
Why not try this as a new hobby? I bet you will be hooked before you know it!

*Session cost updated to current